PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where we ask talented people to do things they have no talent for. It's confusing to everyone. We call it Not My Job. So Keegan-Michael Key was a star performer with Second City here in Chicago before he gained fame on "MADtv" and then in the hit show "Key & Peele," which led eventually to him performing his presidential anger translator with the actual president. He is starring in the new movie "Don't Think Twice." We are delighted to have him with us. Keegan-Michael Key, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
SAGAL: I should say welcome...
KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY: Hello, Chicago. Hello, Chicago.
SAGAL: I should say - I was about to say welcome back.
SAGAL: I want to say also - I want to point out, with some pride and shame, that before leaving Chicago, you had a little stint as a panelist on a little show called WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
KEY: I did a couple of times. I certainly did two or three times until, you know, until we parted.
SAGAL: Yeah, didn't quite work out.
KEY: I mean, Peter, you and I can talk privately later, if you want too.
SAGAL: All right. I just want you to know that we take credit for everything you've accomplished.
KEY: (Laughter) And well you should. It's where I honed my wit, yes.
SAGAL: When - I want - you became really fantastically well-known for "Key & Peele." And you - I mean, it was amazing 'cause I was like, oh, yeah, Keegan-Michael Key. I know him. And the next thing I know, you were on the cover of, I think, Time Magazine.
KEY: Yes, that was crazy. I was not expecting - we were not expecting that, that we got to be on the cover of Time for the - some essay we wrote. We also were on the cover of Time for the 100 Most Influential People in the World or something in 2014. It was crazy.
SAGAL: Oh, something like that, you know. Oh, I can't quite remember what it was that might have landed us for the second time on the cover of Time Magazine.
KEY: You're right. I don't know. We might have been number 46. I don't know. I'm not...
KEY: I'm just saying.
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: I was on the cover of Time Out Magazine.
GOLDTHWAIT: I don't want to brag.
SAGAL: So there are so many things about "Key & Peele," we could just talk about some of the amazing sketches. We should cut right to the chase, which is your anger translator sketch in which, Jordan Peele, your partner, played the president. Where did you come up with this idea for the sketch and tell me exactly, in your view, who are you playing?
KEY: OK, so I'm playing a guy named Luther who is from Detroit. And we remembered, and I cannot remember his name, it was Senator Wilson who said you lie during the State of the Union address.
SAGAL: Oh, yes. It was a congressman named Joe Wilson from North Carolina.
KEY: Congressman Joe Wilson, that's it. And we thought - now, see, the president's stuck between a rock and a hard place. He can't express himself or he'll catch hell for it. So what if we could invent a surrogate for the president who can get angry for him instead? And that's how Luther was born.
SAGAL: It must have been - it wasn't the last White House Correspondents' Dinner. It was the one before that, maybe in...
KEY: The one before. It was the one before, yeah.
SAGAL: ...In 2015. You actually did this sketch, when you translate the president's anger into words, with the actual president.
KEY: Right, yeah. And I got to rehearse with the president for, like, 10 minutes. And he just comes in the room and he's like, there he is. That's my boy, Key.
FAITH SALIE: Wow.
KEY: He runs over to me and gives me a hug. And, of course, he hugs me and then I go, oh, God, I hope there's not a red dot on my forehead. He's hugging me. He's hugging me.
SAGAL: So there was a point, though, prior to you performing with the president where you found out that the president was watching your sketches about you and the president and liking them. And how did that feel?
KEY: Well, that was crazy because we we were given the opportunity to meet him in 2012. And the thing that really got us - the thing that just melted me and Jordan's hearts is that he looked at both of us and he said, I've got to tell you, it's hard to be a brother on TV. Hard to be a brother on TV.
KEY: And then, at the end of the experience, he was reading the teleprompter - you know he does those kind of digital fireside chats?
KEY: And he was reading the teleprompter. And in the middle he went (imitating clearing throat) and had to clear his throat. So he asked one of his aides to hand him a bottle of water. He unscrews the bottle of water, takes a sip and then he feigns as if he had been poisoned by the water.
SAGAL: The president of the United States did a bit?
KEY: He did a bit. He did. He went - he drank his water, went (moaning), no, I'm kidding, guys. I'm kidding. That's a joke.
KEY: And Jordan leans over to me and goes, this brother's over here doing bits.
SAGAL: Well, Keegan-Michael Key, we could talk to you all day, but we can't because we've really invited you here to play a game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: Bet You Don't Know These Peels, Friend.
KEY: So you are partnered very successfully with, of course, Jordan Peele. So we thought we'd ask you about other peels. Get two of these peel-oriented questions right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners - Carl Kasell's voice on their answering machine or voicemail. Bill, who is Keegan-Michael Key playing for?
KURTIS: William Fitzpatrick of Miami, Fla.
KEY: William Fitzpatrick of - OK, a good Irishman, all right. Here we go.
SAGAL: All right, here we go. Here's your first question. The first peel is the Peel 50. That is the world's smallest car. It was made in the 1960s. One of the most interesting features of this three-wheeled vehicle was what? A, if you parked it on a sewer grate, it could fall through; B, instead of a reverse gear, you got out of the car, walked around, grabbed the handle, pulled it backwards, walked back in, got it and drove off; or C, instead of looking through a windshield, the driver's head poked up through the roof and you looked around that way.
KEY: Ah, OK. I am going to go with C.
SAGAL: You're going to go with C, that instead of a windshield, you actually just poked your head up through the roof.
KEY: And I'm trying to read your syntax, Peter...
KEY: ...Which leads me to believe that I should then say B.
SAGAL: I was really trying to be neutral, but apparently I gave it away 'cause it is B, in fact.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
HELEN HONG: Wow.
SAGAL: No, it's an amazing thing. The Peel 50 is a tiny little car and it was so light that users could get out, pick it up and pull it backwards when they had to go in reverse.
SAGAL: It's not very safe. Your next peel is Sir Robert Peel. He was an early 19th-century British politician whose legacy is still felt to this day. He gave his name to something. What was it? A, he founded the British police force, which is why British policemen are still called bobbies; B, he was the first person to import oranges into Britain, which is why they are said to have peels; or C, he was the first person to brush his hair to fall on either side of his face, framing it nicely, which is why we call that a haircut known as the bob.
KEY: Interesting. I'm going to go with A because that, I don't know, it sounds the most plausible to me.
SAGAL: A was the one that the British police force were named bobbies?
SAGAL: And you're right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL, APPLAUSE)
SAGAL: Robert Peel, known as the father of the British police and that's why they're called bobbies. Your last peel is John Peel. He was a very famous and influential British DJ. He died about five years ago.
SAGAL: He discovered singer Billy Bragg when what happened? A, he bet somebody he could make anybody into a successful pop act, including, why, this waiter right here; B, he said on the air one day he was quite hungry and the unknown Bragg brought him a curry; or C, he heard Bragg singing in the shower of the next apartment over and went and banged on the door to ask for a tape.
KEY: I think it's A.
SAGAL: You think it's A that he bet somebody he could make anybody into pop singer, including this guy right here.
KEY: Including this guy right here.
SAGAL: I like that idea, but it was, in fact, B.
KEY: It was B?
SAGAL: It was B. He was on the air. John Peel had a very popular radio program. He was broadcasting live. He said, oh, I'm quite hungry. I didn't get dinner. Billy Bragg, who was an unknown singer said, aha. Went out, got a curry, brought it to the studio and a demo tape, gave him the curry and the guy listened to the tape. And the next thing you know, Billy Bragg was making records. That's what happened.
KEY: That's amazing.
SAGAL: That's pretty great, seizing the moment. Bill, how did Keegan-Michael Key do on our quiz?
KURTIS: Oh, he got 2 out of 3 right. And as he knows from his experience here, that's a winner.
SAGAL: Yes, indeed. We're very forgiving.
SAGAL: Keegan-Michael Key is starring in the new movie "Don't Think Twice." It's in select cinemas now. You should go see it. And if you haven't, go over to Comedy Central. You can watch all of the "Key & Peele" sketches online for free. They are amazing. Your day will be gone. Trust me on this. Keegan-Michael Key, thank you so much. So great to talk to again. Congratulations on everything.
SAGAL: We'll talk to you soon. Bye-bye now.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SAGAL: In just a minute, Bill slips into something a little more comfortable. It's the Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.